My last summer project this year is going to be meat chickens. Oh, I will plant fall crops soon and I will try to build a duck coop, and there will be many fall projects. But this is the last REAL summer project. I have been waiting on the meat birds for weeks now, and yesterday we finally had them come in, on the coldest night of the season. This morning I woke up and they were all still alive so I figure I must be doing something right!
Our chicks are 14 Cornish cross “broilers” from Meyer hatchery. We ordered 13 and they gave us one extra because they’re a good hatchery like that and know that sometimes chicks die. Amongst the confusion over Iams I set up a brooder for them in our spare grow cage. Since Purina’s litter is down to five, those five will go into one grow cage with the chicks in the other. It’ll be a tight fit, but on a quarter acre everything is a tight fit.
In the grow-cage I put down a few layers of newspaper. The newspaper will be easy to clean every few days as needed to keep the brooder extra clean. I also sprinkled both on top and under the paper with DE. There is DE in their feed and their water as well. I have whole cloves to crush into their feed, some garlic, and ACV in their water. All of this is for Coccidia prevention. Since there chickens are as natural as I can get, they are going to be unmedicated. That means intestinal parasites that can kill a chick when in large numbers are a huge risk. The only thing to do is build them up to a sort of immunity to them. They may have coccidia right now even, but it’s a small amount. By cleaning the cage frequently I prevent them from re-ingesting the eggs that are expelled in their feces, keeping the number of parasites in their digestive system low enough for them to grow. The cloves, ACV, garlic and DE are all to create a hostile gut environment for the parasites, not killing them off but instead making it harder for them to grow and keeping the numbers down for them to build up a natural resistance.
The normal treatment for coccidia is a maintenance level of an antibiotic known as Amprollium. It’s in the feed of every commercial chicken. And it’s in the chicken when you eat it too. We’re going to avoid this to the best of our abilities.
The water for the brooder comes from a small water bottle wired to a takeout soup container lid with an inverted rim. I was going to glue it down with a simple silicone sealant but the sealant I had was dried up. So I just used some wire and basically tied the bottle to the bottom. It works fine, although it’s a little tricky to fill.
The feed is in an empty peanut butter jar with a hole cut in the side, stapled to a cardboard sheet. Nothing is better than free, disposable and recycled!
We have a lamp in the brooder. Since Ophidian (the snake) is most comfortable with temperatures in the 70’s we just closed the window in his room and put the heat lamp in the new brooder. I stapled a piece of hardware cloth scrap to two pieces of wood, one of which screws into the beams on the cage to set the lamp on. I can move the lamp up or down about four inches by just unscrewing the wood and lifting the whole contraption to the next set of support bars. On the lowest level (about six inches from the floor) it reaches 95 degrees, the perfect temperature for the chicks. This first few days the light will be on 24/7. Later we will start turning it off during the day (our garage is pretty dim), and then at night as well as the local temperatures return to normal and the chicks feather out. We’ll also begin foraging them in the lawn.
To help the chicks keep warm, I put a towel over the top of the “brooder” and over the sides, and tossed in a little hay. The nights and days have been unseasonably cold (where’s that gosh darned global warming when you need it!?) so this helps trap the heat where the chicks are and lets them move out from under the lamp without freezing.
I have been trying to teach the chicks good foraging. I toss in bits of grass occasionally and today they figured out how to eat a few red wiggler earth worms I’ve had multiplying in a bucket in my garage all summer long. It was hilarious as one chick figured out it was delicious food and began running around chirping loudly with it’s prize. Suddenly all the other chicks wanted it too and it was a madcap dash to steal the worm. Through this, the one chick taught the rest that worms were good eating and by the time four worms had gone in the brooder, three chicks were happy to eat them. Tomorrow we’ll do some more. I’d like these chicks to learn to eat like a normal bird at least a little. In 8-10 weeks these birds will be on our table, in the meantime I leave you with some pictures!